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Hiking Stats as of 11/21/2018
Total Trips:
Total Distance:
Total Elevation Gain:
 325
 3,891.68 miles
 1,060,050 feet
2 weeks had passed since Kyle and I had summited Half Dome, enough time to get me a little stir-crazy to get out again and do something. I wasn't feeling like I wanted to drive the 5-6 hour round trip up and down to the high Sierra, and with the weather still warm there was little that I could do in the immediate area which wouldn't turn into a tiring slog. Indecision won out on Saturday, and I wound up going nowhere. As night fell on Saturday I decided that I would get up extremely early Sunday morning and make my first visit to Mt. Diablo since the massive wildfire shut the State Park down for several days in September. I have spent more time hiking Mt. Diablo than any other mountain, and while I was curious to see the extent of the fire damage I was also dreading what might have been lost.

I woke up at 3:45 AM, and after a few minutes of thinking that I didn't really want to get up and go to Diablo at this crazy hour, my longing for the mountains got the best of me and I packed up my stuff and hit the road at about 4:15. I arrived at Regency Drive in Clayton a few minutes after 5:00, and found my myself to be the only fool out this early for a hike. I set off on the trail at 5:15 AM to the faint glow of my trusty headlamp, with the only other light coming from the blinking summit towers and the stars. Until about a month prior I had only hiked with the headlamp as part of my two trips to Mt. Whitney when I started on the trail about an hour before daylight. Lately I had taken to night hiking, starting up Mission Peak an hour before sunset and then using the headlamp to continue past Mission Peak towards the summits of Mt. Allison and Monument Peak. I had thought that I noticed my headlamp getting a bit faint during my last outing, and in my sleep deprived state in the morning I had proactively packed 2 extra AA batteries in my daypack. My headlamp became dimmer, and before long I it was completely out, with the only setting still working being the "night vision" setting - a reddish glow that didn't really do anything to help me see. I suppose with full batteries the night vision setting might be useful, but given its current resouces it was no help. I had started up towards Eagle Peak on the far west side of the park, thinking that I didn't need to see anything until later in the day when my route we lead me east towards the main summit. I set down my pack and with only a faint glow visible on the horizon, got to work on changing the batteries.

Much to my dismay, the headlamp took AAA batteries, which never should have been a surprise to me but somehow I hadn't researched this before and now I was stuck in the dark as my route circled around the west side of Eagle Peak, cutting off any hint of light on the horizon. For a minute I thought I might have to wait an hour or so until the sun would provide sufficient light for me to make my way, but then I realized I was saved by technology, and got out my iphone and used it as a flashlight to keep me moving. Using the iphone for about a half hour I made my way up to the top of Eagle Peak, as the lights of the East Bay glowed in the morning darkness. From here I made the familiar trip over towards the main summit, this time taking the Prospectors Gap fireroad where I finally saw the first evidence of the fire - the tracks of large trucks still fresh in the dirt. There was little evidence of the fire on the west side of Diablo, and I was pleasantly surprised to see how little things had changed as I crested at the Prospectors Gap, and crossed over to the East side of Diablo where the summit trail begins.

As much as the western side was unaffected by the fire, the east side beared the brunt of the damage. It was easy to see the impacted areas ahead, and soon the trail made its way through charred remains. At first the damage was intermittant - some areas were devastated while others were spared. More oddly, some areas showed nothing - no green but also no charred remains, almost as if crossing a desert landscape. I could not remember what had been there before it was turned into nothing, but the real extent of the damage could be seen as the trail wound around above the massively burned area of Morgan Territory. Continuing onward and upward, more fire damage was evident, both along the trail and in the views down towards Morgan Territory. I wondered just how high the fire damage would be, as I was only a few hundred vertical feet below the summit. I was happy to finally see some untouched vegetation on the final approach to the lower summit parking lot.

As happy as I was to get back to some live vegetation, I was nearly as shocked to see a California State Parks truck blocking the entrance from the trail to the lower summit parking lot. I approached the ranger and asked him if there was a problem. He said no, but that there was a bike race starting in a half hour and they were closing the summit. On the inside I felt my blood pressure rising as the memories of the Amgen Tour bike race from a few months ago flooded back to me. That day I had hiked to the summit, only to be told that I was not allowed to go beyond the lower summit parking lot. I had to sneak around the boundaries and quickly got to the summit just as I was caught and the guys on top radioed down about the hiker who dared hike a mountain in a state park when they wanted to ride their road bikes up the mountain instead. Enough on that, as I can feel myself getting mad all over again. Fortunately, this ranger was very friendly, and I told him I could be up to the summit and back well before the bike riders got up here. He said no problem, and let me pass. I hustled up the road to the summit, picked up a momento from the summit shop, and then began to descend. Although I was in a hurry, I did take a few minutes to enjoy the views to San Francisco, although the activity in the parking lot reinforced the need for me to get down. Before I could drop down to the lower parking lot, however, I had to take the fun little mile detour to Devil's Pulpit. It is a very easy hike over to the Pulpit, across flat land and out of respect for the nice ranger I ran most of the way so as to not interfere with the bike race which was just kicking off and would see riders approaching the summit in the next 45 minutes. Rather than take the easiest route up, I followed the large crack as a means of getting some rock climbing practice in. Devil's Pulpit will never be confused with an SPS Sierra summit, although it is still a fun diversion. From the top I got a great view of North Peak and the damage caused by the fire on its eastern flanks.

After descending the Devil's Pulpit I jogged back to the lower parking lot, thanked the ranger who was still at the intersection of the trail, and began the trek back down to the Prospectors Gap where I would pick up the North Peak trail. The fire damage on North Peak was bad, although it didn't intersect the trail the way it did on the main peak. Before long I was on the summit of North Peak, having seen all of the fire damage for the day. My last target of the day would be Mt. Olympia. As I began the trek over to Olympia, I followed the trail as it wound on to the west side of North Peak, back into the areas of green vegetation. I saw a blue bird carrying an acorn and couldn't help but wonder if he might just drop that acorn into the burned area and was witnessing nature starting the rebirthing process. Well maybe that was a little to dramatic and the bird was simply eating the acorn but I prefer the poetic alternative. There is some nice, albeit short, 3rd class climbing available just off the summit of Olympia, and I took the opportunity to climb up the rock which would be quite scary if the drop down was more than 20 or 30 feet. After that fun little diversion I hiked the final few hundred feet to the official Olympis summit. From this side the rock didn't look quite so imposing, with the greater vertical climb being on the southern side. With the days climbing now over, I set off on the descent, with a goal of getting home before the 1 PM NFL kickoffs. On descent I saw a symbolic "burning bush" which stuck out against the typical green scenery which dominated the lower slopes. I was back to my car by noon and back home 10 minutes before kickoff, ready to relax for the rest of the day.

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